When hot lunch for your school-age kids starts costing more than a typical utility bill, it’s time to start thinking of other options. Changing your approach to your children’s lunch menu is about more than money, though. It’s an opportunity to talk to your kids about making healthy food choices.

Schools are responsible for educating our kids, and they’re also supposed to provide a healthy lunch. Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee how healthy a lunch is when your child either refuses to eat it and it ends up in the trash, or the school serves something questionable. Worse yet, the pressure to provide the right kind of lunch may force schools into taking shortcuts.

Regardless of your children’s school hot lunch offerings, if you are concerned about your child developing healthy habits, want them to be more actively involved in making conscious decisions about what they eat and why, and want to teach them about nutrition, packing lunch together is an ideal time to focus on teaching them nutrition without it sounding like a lecture and without your child feeling sensitive about their own body image. You wouldn’t hesitate to talk to your kids about the dangers of smoking or drinking, but consuming the wrong kinds of foods on a regular basis is just as harmful and can have just as many negative affects.

Your kids don’t have to be unhealthy or overweight for conversations about nutrition to be a good idea, but because childhood obesity is a growing problem, it’s never too early to start talking about healthy habits and eating right. In fact, if you have toddlers at home who have not yet started school but have started developing preferences for certain foods, talk to them, too. It’s never too early to start teaching your kids how to be in control of their health.